Keith Sawyer is one of the world’s leading scientific experts on creativity and innovation. In his first job after graduating from MIT, he designed videogames for Atari. He then worked for six years as a management consultant in Boston and New York, advising large corporations on the strategic use of information technology. He’s been a jazz pianist for over 30 years, and performed with several improv theater groups in Chicago, as part of his research into jazz and improvisational theater.
Previous to Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, his books include Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration and Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, and he has published over 80 scientific articles. Sawyer is a professor of education, psychology, and business at Washington University in St. Louis.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Who has had the greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Sawyer: I had so many wonderful mentors and advisors that introduced me to creativity research. When I arrived at the University of Chicago as a doctoral student, I had long been interested in musical and artistic creativity, but I had no idea this was a field of scientific research. When I applied to grad school, I wanted to study conversational dynamics, and I went to University of Chicago to work with the famous linguistic anthropologist, Michael Silverstein. Just by coincidence, my first Fall term on campus, Mike Csikszentmihalyi was teaching a class called “Psychology of Creativity,” and I signed up for it, basically as an elective.
Mike was the one who introduced me to the field and showed me that it was possible to do rigorous empirical study of the creative process. His own dissertation, also at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s, was a study of the creative process of MFA students at the Art Institute of Chicago. For the term project in his class, I interviewed several jazz musicians about their own creative process. Mike liked the paper, and suggested that I revise it and submit it to the Creativity Research Journal. After revision it was accepted, and became my first published journal article, in 1992.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Sawyer: I didn’t start graduate school until I was 30. My undergrad degree was in computer science at MIT, and I worked eight years after college in information technology and software development. My first job, I designed videogames for a small company in Cambridge, MA that did many of Atari’s hit videogames, under contract. Then, I worked six years doing management consulting for big money-center banks. At the age of 29, I was really ready for a change; I had always wanted to return to grad school and become a professor, and the time was right. But I didn’t know what I wanted to study or even what departments to apply to. I knew I wanted to study how people communicate through language; I discovered that scholars study this in linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and psychology.
And as a matter of fact, throughout my career since then, I’ve continued to be very interdisciplinary and this is my own approach to creativity research.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Sawyer: I am not one of those people who thinks that schools kill creativity. Teachers and schools taught me so much that I needed to know to do the work I’ve done. My two degrees are from two extremely rigorous environments, MIT and the University of Chicago. What both of these places share is a deep commitment to ideas and inquiry. People really care about getting it right, about what is the truth about a phenomenon. Sometimes people argue, and I mean shouting…just because they really really care about ideas.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?
Sawyer: I knew nothing! I was just a nerdy computer science graduate. And the videogame design company was not corporate at all; it was a small startup company that had all of the features we now associate with Internet startups. In 1982, we had a gourmet chef, we had company-paid vacations to Disneyworld…I got my real education about the business world when I started consulting for big companies like Citicorp and AT&T and US West. My mentor was the company founder, Kenan Sahin, who had been a professor in business at MIT. Thanks to him, I essentially received an MBA education on the job.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Keith cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
His home page
Keith’s Amazon page
The Zig Zag page
Huffington Post link
Leigh Thompson is the J. Jay Gerber Professor of Dispute Resolution & Organizations in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She directs the highly successful Kellogg executive course, Leading High Impact Teams, and the Kellogg Team and Group Research Center. She also co-directs the Negotiation Strategies for Managers course. Thompson has published more than 100 research articles and has authored nine books, including The Truth About Negotiations, Making the Team, and The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator. Her latest book, Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration, was published by Harvard Business Review Press (January 2013).
Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing Creative Conspiracy, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Thompson: As strange as it sounds my husband, Robert Weeks, helped me discover some strengths I didn’t know I had. His passion for cycling led me to get on a bike so we would have something to do together. What I learned is that I actually have a lot of strength and talent in that area. From casual riding for fun, I started rigorous training to become a bike racer. That experience taught me the importance of having a goal and of being coachable. It also taught me about failure and success. I don’t think I would have written the Creative Conspiracy without his presence in my life.
Morris: Who has had the greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Thompson: Two dissertation advisors: Reid Hastie (now at the University of Chicago) taught me to be extremely rigorous and mission-focused in my research. Max Bazerman (now at Harvard Business School) – introduced me to negotiation research. I had started my dissertation topic on a boring subject and changed it when I met Max. If I’m not passionate about something, it is hard for me to focus on it.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow? Please explain.
Thompson: When I was pursuing my PhD I thought I would spend the rest of my life as a researcher in an academic institution. However, I was lonely simply doing research for research sake. I found my true home in a business school. On the very first day while teaching MBA students and executives, I decided that I never wanted to do any research unless I could bring it into the classroom and have executives find it valuable.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Thompson: I think some people know exactly what they want to do from the time they are 10 years old. I always felt like a fraud because I don’t think I figured out what I wanted to do until I was about 35 years old. In college, I was a theater major for about a year and a half, then I changed majors and earned a major in communication studies and a minor in psychology. After that I became a marriage counselor and therapist, then I became a social psychologist, and finally when I was about 35 it all came together. But when I look back, having training on the stage helps me in the classroom, having performed marriage counseling helps me works with people and understand interpersonal dynamics, and being a researcher helps me too. All these false starts have shaped what I’m most passionate about doing now.
Morris: Now please shift your attention to Creative Conspiracy. When and why did you decide to write it?
Thompson: When I was in the classroom and working with companies, I realized that they often operated under well-intentioned, but largely faulty assumptions. In fact, the scientific evidence on creativity is not well known by companies. So, a lot of what companies were doing was completely contrary to a lot of the research studies. I didn’t feel comfortable asking my students and clients to go and read 250 management science and psychological science articles, so I wanted to put all of this research together in an easy to read format. My goal was to collect all this information and build a framework that was actionable.
Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.
Thompson: The key conversation stopper in all of my lectures and teaching on creativity is that teams are distinctively less creative than individuals. Another head-snapping revelation is that focusing on quantity is a much better key to creative success than focusing on quality. Just by stating these two facts, I can almost cause a revolt. In Chapter 2, I provide a quiz where people can access whether they are operating under myth or actual fact. And the rest of the book provides a step-by-step guide on what leaders can do to be more creative.
Morris: Many (if not most) people assign negative connotations to the word “conspiracy.” How do you define the word and, in your opinion, what are the defining characteristics of a conspiracy that is creative?
Thompson: A creative conspiracy is below radar behavior and stage setting by teams in order to think about new possibilities and question assumptions. Conspiracy can have a negative connotation, and I wanted to come up with a title that would signal the fact that sometimes creative stage setting is at odds with traditional organizational expectations In certain sections of the book I discuss creative deviance, where teams actually defy what superiors and managers are asking them to do all in the name of questioning assumptions and coming up with new breakthroughs.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
For more information about Leigh Thompson’s teaching and research, please visit www.leighthompson.com.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Dorie Clark for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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Success sells. Everybody loves a winner. These clichés are reaffirmed every day in our business and media culture, especially if the winners are young or “emerging.” Fast Company recently released their list of the year’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. Every city has its roundup of the local heavy hitters (hello “30 under 30″ and “40 under 40″). And don’t forget the World Economic Forum’s posse of Young Global Leader. What, you didn’t make the cut? (Actually, me neither.) In this kind of environment, it’s all too easy to feel like a failure — but just because the world doesn’t yet recognize your genius doesn’t mean it’s not there.
I talked recently with David Galenson, an economist at the University of Chicago who began studying prices at art auctions — an exploration that drove him to understand the nature of creativity over the course of one’s career. He realized there were two very distinct types of creativity — “conceptual” (in which a young person has a clear vision and executes it early, a la Picasso or Zuckerberg) and ”experimental” (think Cezanne or Virginia Woolf, practicing and refining their craft over time and winning late-in-life success).
I saw this kind of fast, “conceptual” creativity and success exemplified not too long ago at my Smith College reunion, where I heard a talk by one of our notable alumnae, Thelma Golden, now the Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Golden has been on my radar for a long time — the year I graduated, she was honored by the college with a special prize. Though it typically goes to older alumnae, she won it only 10 years after graduation for her achievements as a Whitney Museumcurator. She’d known she wanted to enter the field since high school, she told us. Her focus was singular, and she attained professional success almost immediately. It’s enough to make anyone feel like a loser in comparison.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the forthcoming Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.
Here is a brief excerpt from an especially thought-provoking and informative article written by Ginny Whitelaw and featured online by Fast Company magazine. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
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This blog is written by a member of our expert blogging community and expresses that expert’s views alone.
Anything we’re trying to make happen as a leader involves other people, and the fact is, most people don’t have to follow us. They don’t have to believe in our great ideas, buy our great products, or do what we want them to do. Even when we have authority–as parents of teenagers will tell you–our power doesn’t go very far without others believing that what we want them to do is in their best interests. The pull of connecting to others and their interests is far more powerful than the push of control, especially when we find the intersection between their interests and our goals. How do we know what’s truly in someone else’s interests?
“Become the other person and go from there.” It’s the best piece of coaching advice I ever received, coming from Tanouye Roshi, and it applies equally to influence, negotiation, conflict, sales, teaching, and communication of all kinds. To become the other person is to listen so deeply that our own mind chatter stops; to listen with every pore on our body until we can sense how the other’s mind works. To become the other person is to feel into her emotional state, see through her eyes, think like she thinks, and see how she views us, our proposition, and the situation at hand. To write it out or read it in serial fashion makes it sound like a lengthy, time-consuming process, but in fact, deep empathy conveys its insights in a flash, and our ability to empathize deepens with practice, as we learn to quiet our own inner state.
[Whitelaw then explains specifically how and why "becoming the other person" is essential to effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.]
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Dr. Ginny Whitelaw is the co-founder of Focus Leadership, LLC, focusing on the development of the whole leader. A biophysicist by training, she combines a rich scientific background with senior leadership experience, and 30 years of training in Zen and martial arts. For many years she has been an executive coach, faculty member and program director with Oliver Wyman’s Delta Executive Learning Center. She has also served as adjunct faculty to Columbia University’s senior executive program. A seasoned program manager in telecommunications and aerospace, she has more than 20 years of experience leading multifunctional teams and complex change efforts.
Dr. Whitelaw spent 10 of those years at NASA, where she became the Deputy Manager for integration of the International Space Station Program. She led a large-scale change effort to re-align the management of the Space Station program. Her work using cross-functional teams became a model for other NASA programs, and she was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal for her efforts. She also has small and non-profit organization leadership experience, having founded and run 4 companies, including two major training centers for Zen and Aikido. A Rinzai Zen priest, she holds a 5th degree black belt in Aikido, and teaches Zen meditation alongside her work as a management educator and executive coach.
Dr. Whitelaw is the author of BodyLearning and (with Betsy Wetzig) Move to Greatness: The 4 Essential Energies of the Whole and Balanced Leader. Together with Mark Kiefaber, she has developed the FEBI® (Focus Energy Balance Indicator), a powerful assessment identifying one’s preferences for four energy patterns linking mind and body. She holds a Ph.D. in Biophysics from the University of Chicago, as well as a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in Philosophy from Michigan State University.
Her latest book is The Zen Leader: 10 Ways to Go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Claire Needell Hollander, an English teacher at a public middle school in Manhattan. It first appeared in the April 20, 2012, edition of The New York Times. It attracted my attention for several reasons including the fact that I have been a book worm since childhood. Also, after earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in comparative literature at the University of Chicago and Yale, I taught world literature for 13 years at two boarding schools in New England, and then for ten years at a local community college. The great books can indeed “touch the heart.”
I am convinced that such books are “magic carpets” that can transport those who read them almost anywhere in time and space, from the shores of Troy under siege to worlds within and beyond our universe a century or more from now. In this article, Hollander describes her young students’ reactions to various great books and then shares her concerns about the subordination of learning skills to standardized testing skills.
To read the complete article, please click here.
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FRANZ KAFKA wrote that “a book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us.” I once shared this quotation with a class of seventh graders, and it didn’t seem to require any explanation.
We’d just finished John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. When we read the end together out loud in class, my toughest boy, a star basketball player, wept a little, and so did I. “Are you crying?” one girl asked, as she crept out of her chair to get a closer look. “I am,” I told her, “and the funny thing is I’ve read it many times.”
But they understood. When George shoots Lennie, the tragedy is that we realize it was always going to happen. In my 14 years of teaching in a New York City public middle school, I’ve taught kids with incarcerated parents, abusive parents, neglectful parents; kids who are parents themselves; kids who are homeless or who live in crowded apartments in violent neighborhoods; kids who grew up in developing countries. They understand, more than I ever will, the novel’s terrible logic — the giving way of dreams to fate.
For the last seven years, I have worked as a reading enrichment teacher, reading classic works of literature with small groups of students from grades six to eight. I originally proposed this idea to my principal after learning that a former stellar student of mine had transferred out of a selective high school — one that often attracts the literary-minded offspring of Manhattan’s elite — into a less competitive setting. The daughter of immigrants, with a father in jail, she perhaps felt uncomfortable with her new classmates. I thought additional “cultural capital” could help students like her fare better in high school, where they would inevitably encounter, perhaps for the first time, peers who came from homes lined with bookshelves, whose parents had earned not G.E.D.’s but Ph.D.’s.
Along with Of Mice and Men, my groups read: Sounder, The Red Pony, A Raisin in the Sun, Lord of the Flies, The Catcher in the Rye, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth. The students didn’t always read from the expected perspective. Holden Caulfield was a punk, unfairly dismissive of parents who had given him every advantage. About The Red Pony, one student said, “it’s about being a dude, it’s about dudeness.” I had never before seen the parallels between Scarface and Macbeth, nor had I heard Lady Macbeth’s soliloquies read as raps, but both made sense; the interpretations were playful, but serious. Once introduced to Steinbeck’s writing, one boy went on to read The Grapes of Wrath and told me repeatedly how amazing it was that “all these people hate each other, and they’re all white.” His historical perspective was broadening, his sense of his own country deepening. Year after year, ex-students visited and told me how prepared they had felt in their freshman year as a result of the classes.
And yet I do not know how to measure those results. As student test scores have become the dominant means of evaluating schools, I have been asked to calculate my reading enrichment program’s impact on those scores. I found that some students made gains of over 100 points on the statewide English Language Arts test, while other students in the same group had flat or negative results. In other words, my students’ test scores did not reliably indicate that reading classic literature added value.
Until recently, given the students’ enthusiasm for the reading groups, I was able to play down that data. But last year, for the first time since I can remember, our test scores declined in relation to comparable schools in the city. Because I play a leadership role in the English department, I felt increased pressure to bring this year’s scores up. All the teachers are increasing their number of test-preparation sessions and practice tests, so I have done the same, cutting two of my three classic book groups and replacing them with a test-preparation tutorial program. Only the highest-performing eighth graders were able to keep taking the reading classes.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Terry R. Bacon is a Scholar in Residence in the Korn/Ferry Institute. Previously, he was founder and CEO of Lore International Institute. He has a B.S. in engineering from West Point and a PhD in literary studies from The American University. He has also studied business and leadership at Goddard College, Roosevelt University, University of Chicago, Wharton, Stanford, and Harvard. He is a prolific author and speaker, having written more than one hundred articles, white papers, and books, including Selling to Major Accounts, Winning Behavior, The Behavioral Advantage, Adaptive Coaching, Powerful Proposals, What People Want, and The Elements of Power: Lessons on Leadership and Influence (AMACOM, January 2011). Bacon’s latest book, Elements of Influence: The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead, was also published by AMACOM in July 2011.
He is chairman of the Fort Lewis College Foundation board and president of Music in the Mountains, a summer classical music festival in Durango, Colorado. During the last four years, Leadership Excellence has named him one of the top 100 thinkers on leadership in the world. You can learn more about him and his ideas and works at http://www.terryrbacon.com/, http://www.theelementsofpower.com/ or http://www.booksbyterryrbacon.com/.
Here is an excerpt from my second interview of Terry. To read the complete interview, please click here.
To read my first interview of him, please click here.
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Morris: When and why did you decide to write Elements of Influence?
Bacon: I have been researching power and influence for more than 20 years. In 1990, I created the Survey of Influence Effectiveness, a 360-degree assessment of power, influence frequency, and influence effectiveness. After the instrument was validated, we began collecting data from business people around the world. Several years ago, I began to analyze the data and found that we had a gold mine of information on how people build their power bases and how they use power to lead and influence others. Some of the results confirmed my hypotheses about power and influence, but other results were unexpected and gave me some new insights into leadership through influence.
Morris: To what extent is it an extension of Elements of Power?
Bacon: I began writing them at the same time. Initially, I had intended to write one book on power and influence, but the more I wrote the more I realized that the subject was bigger than I could reasonably explore in a single book. I had lunch in New York with my editor, Ellen Kadin, and told her how large the book had become, and she suggested separating the topics and doing two books. So Elements of Influence is very much an extension of The Elements of Power. They complement each other very well.
Morris: What differentiates it from Elements of Power?
Bacon: In The Elements of Power, I describe the eleven sources of power people can have—where that power comes from, how people can become powerful in each of the eleven ways, and how those power sources can become power drains. Character, for instance, can be a huge source of power for people who are perceived to be moral exemplars, but if they do something unethical or immoral, they can lose that power very quickly. Eliot Spitzer is a good example of this. Throughout this book, I also explain how readers can build each of these power sources. The second book, Elements of Influence, describes how people use their power to lead and influence others. This book describes the ten ethical influence techniques and the four unethical means of influencing others. Together, these books provide a complete picture of what enables anyone to make a difference in the world. The subtitle of the influence book is The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead, and that really captures the essence of both books.
Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing Elements of Influence?
Bacon: I had done a substantial amount of research before writing the book, so many of the head-snapping revelations occurred as I was reviewing the research findings. It was impossible not to be surprised and amazed as I examined those findings in depth and realized that some of my preconceptions about power and influence were wrong and as I learned more about this fascinating topic. One huge surprise, for instance, was the enormous leverage that expressiveness power has on a person’s effectiveness at leading and influencing others. Another surprise was how power and influence differed in the 45 cultures I studied. Of course, I also had some interesting revelations as I wrote the book. As a writer, I always create a fairly detailed outline of a book before I start writing, but the writing process itself is always one of discovery. For me, that is one of the joys of writing. No matter how much I think I know about a subject, I always discover more—and have some intriguing realizations—as I write.
Morris: To what extent (if any) does it differ in final form from what you originally envisioned? Please explain.
Bacon: As a writer, I do a tremendous amount of up-front work on books, so I know what the books is about, what I’m going to say in each chapter, and essentially how the book will look when it’s finished. So, once I’d made the decision to write about the power and influence topics in separate books, the final form of those books did not differ substantially from what I had originally envisioned. However, the content of the chapters evolved as I wrote them because, for me, like other writers, the process of writing is a journey of clarification and discovery.
Morris: What are the most significant differences between your book and others that also examine influence, persuasion, etc?
Bacon: A number of the books on influence and persuasion are primarily oriented toward marketing, so when those authors speak about influencing people, they often mean influencing consumers or buyers. Even Robert Cialdini’s classic book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, emphasizes how influence is used by marketers, peddlers, and salespeople. In Elements of Influence and the work I’ve done on power, I have focused more broadly on how people influence each other in everyday life: in business, at home, at school, in the professions, in the arts, and so on. I’m not as interested in the marketing applications of influence as I am in how people try to influence each other all the time. Furthermore, as comprehensive as Cialdini is, he doesn’t discuss every influence technique, such as engaging people by consulting them or influencing scores of people by being a role model. Gandhi, for instance, continues to influence millions of people (who never knew him) by being a role model of non-violent resistance.
Some other books on influence make outlandish claims. One promises to teach you how to get anyone to do anything. Another, titled The Science of Influence, claims that you can get anyone to say yes in eight minutes or less. Books like these are not scientific, and the claims they make don’t just border on the ridiculous, they ARE the ridiculous. Yes, people learn to become better at influencing, but to get anyone to do anything? In eight minutes or less? As I note in my book, if these claims were remotely reasonable, then why is there still conflict in the Middle East? People are more complicated than these authors imagine, and the claims they make on their book covers are good selling tools—but they’re false.
Morris: You refer to influence as an “art” but also suggest that there are elements of science involved when getting others to take one’s lead – to believe something wants them to think, or do something one wants them to do. Please explain.
Bacon: The art in influence comes in the ability to read others, intuit how they will respond to different forms of influence, build commonality and rapport with them, observe carefully and adapt as you interact with them. The science comes in understanding and applying the ten laws of influence, in knowing the different influence techniques and when to use them, and in studying the link between operating styles and influence effectiveness and using the principles gleaned from that study to more effectively influence people with different operating styles.
Morris: For those who have not as yet read the book, what are the “ten laws of influence”?
Bacon: First, I think it’s important to define influence. It is the art of getting others to follow your lead—to believe something you want them to believe, think in a way you want them to think, or do something you want them to do. All of us try to influence others every day. We try to persuade others to accept our point of view on a political candidate, or we try to get them to buy something or accept the price we’re willing to pay for something they are trying to sell to us. Whether you are arguing a point, making a proposal, interviewing for a job, or asking for a raise, you are trying to influence people. And leadership is entirely about influencing other people. The basic principles of influence are what I call the ten laws, and they are:
1. Influence attempts may fail for many legitimate reasons. No matter how skilled you are, you won’t be able to influence everyone all the time.
2. Influence is contextual. People won’t be influenced unless they have the latitude to say yes, unless saying yes is consistent with their interests and values, and unless they have an agreeable disposition.
3. Influence is often a process rather than an event. You won’t always succeed the first time, but if you persist you may eventually succeed.
4. Influence is cultural. People in different cultures often respond differently to the same influence technique.
5. Ethical influence is consensual and often bilateral.
6. Unethical influence may succeed—but always at a cost.
7. People respond best to the influence techniques they use themselves.
8. If you are observant, people will reveal what they find most influential.
9. Influence usually involves a mix of techniques.
10. The more power you have, the more influential you will be.
If you understand these fundamental laws, you will be more influential.
Morris: Which of the ten fundamentals do most people find most difficult to master? Why?
Bacon: Number 8. If you watch people carefully and note how they try to influence you or other people, you can discover how best to influence them (and this law is based on law number 7. A man who tries to influence you by giving you the logical reasons for doing something is likely to respond well to logic himself. A woman who tries to influence you by citing an authority will probably respond well to legitimizing (an influence technique that works by appealing to authority). I’ve seen people who know this intuitively, but I’ve also seen others who struggle with it. They’ll try to use logic, and when logic doesn’t work, they’ll try a different logical argument. When that doesn’t work (and they become frustrated), they’ll try more logic. Instead, they should pay attention to what the person they are trying to influence is most responsive to and adapt accordingly.
Morris: Can almost anyone master the skills needed to possess and exert great influence?
Bacon: Yes, but the first step is to build their power base. If you don’t have considerable power, you won’t be able to exert great influence. The next step is to build your influencing skills and then learning to adapt your technique to the person and the situation. For example, if I want to be capable of influencing a number of people at one time and inspiring them to action, I need to be very good at an influence technique called “appealing to values.” The power sources that make appealing to values effective are expressiveness (being a superb communicator), character (being considered honest and trustworthy), attraction (having people like me or want to be near me), and reputation (being well regarded in my organization or society). I also need to be highly skilled at conveying energy and enthusiasm, building rapport and trust with others, listening, appearing self-confident, and using a compelling tone of voice. Many people can improve their skills in these areas. The most influential people become masters at them. Becoming a real master at influencing others may take years, but if they apply themselves everyone can become more influential than they are now.
Tad Waddington is Director of Performance Measurement for Accenture. He received his PhD in Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistical Analysis from the University of Chicago. He is the co-author of Return on Learning: Training for High Performance at Accenture and the author of Lasting Contribution: How to Think, Plan, and Act to Accomplish Meaningful Work, which has won six prestigious awards. Fluent in Chinese, Tad is Global Senior Advisor to the Asia-Pacific CEO Association Worldwide. He is also among my most cherished personal friends.
Here is an excerpt from my second interview of Tad. To read the complete interview, please click here.
To read the first interview, please click here.
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Morris: So much has – and hasn’t happened – in the world since our last conversation a few years that I really don’t quite know where to begin. So, for those who have not as yet read Return on Learning and/or Lasting Contribution. Let’s begin there. First Return. What was the book’s ROI for you?
Waddington: The return for me has come in two big ways. First, I love to travel, because it, to paraphrase Kant, shakes me out of my dogmatic slumbers. I’ve spoken on the return on investment in training in Beijing, Cairo, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, London, Mumbai, Nanjing, Nice, Saigon, Singapore, and dozens of other places. Second, it was the beginning of my understanding of how incredibly high, robust, and pervasive are the returns on investments in human capital.
Morris: Then and even more so now, Accenture is a very large and very complex organization. For years it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies (i.e. those with annual sales of less than $25 million). Here’s my question: What are the most valuable lessons that leaders of small companies learn and apply from what you and your co-authors share in the book.
Waddington: Employee learning (aka, human capital investment) is more important than leaders think it is. I’ll give an example. Imagine that you run a very small business and that your business performance is a function of People, Process and Technology. If you’ve invested $5 in Process and $5 in Technology and $1 in People, then your total output is ($5 * $5 * $1) $25 units of production. If you increase your investment in People by $1, then your output goes to ($5 * $5 * $2) $50. The formula return on investment (ROI) is:
ROI = (Value – Cost) / Cost
In this example, the value added by the training was $25 at a cost of $1.
ROI = ($25 – $1) / $1 = 2,400%.
The ROI in training is absurdly high, because training helped to realize value in the other factors of production. For example, suppose I am barely skilled at using some software. Upgrading me to the newest version or giving me a faster computer would not yield as much value as would increasing my skills with the software. Increasing my skills will allow me to draw more value out of both the software and the hardware. In other words, because organizations have traditionally underinvested in training, they will see extraordinarily high returns. Therefore, it is well worth the CEO’s investment of resources (time, money, attention) to align learning with the organizations strategy
Morris: In your opinion, what is the single greatest challenge that world leaders now face?
Waddington: In the West in particular, short-term thinking. Most of our public companies seem to look only to the next quarter and our politicians, only to the next election. A more concrete example is that in North Dakota oil companies burn off 100 million cubic feet of natural gas every day, because it is cheaper to burn it than to capture it. In the short term, this makes economical sense. In the long run, we can’t get that gas back, it adds millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and it is just plain stupid .
Morris: What is the single greatest opportunity, one that did not exist until recently? How best to take full advantage of it
Waddington: This goes back to something I spent a great deal of time working on in graduate school. It is clear that science has led to progress; we have medicine, computers, transportation, and so on. And yet progress could be much, much greater. How? To date there have been an estimated 50 million scientific article published. Nobody can read even a small fraction of that.. Here’s an example of why this is a problem: One of my PhD advisors, Don Swanson, had Raynaud’s disease. When it gets cold, his fingers and toes hurt, a lot. Since he invented the research database, he knew of its limitations so when his doctors told him there is no cure, he got to searching.
He went into Pub Med and pulled every article with the word “Raynaud” in the title. Then he stripped out meaningless words and pulled every article with meaningful words. The result was two sets of articles published years earlier that nobody had ever cited and that didn’t cite each other. One set said that Raynaud’s has something to do with blood viscosity. The other said that fish oil decreases blood viscosity. He started taking fish oil supplements and his disease cleared up. He published the work and clinical trials have proved him right. He then did the same thing with his headaches: “Role of calcium entry blockers in the prophylaxis of migraine” and “Magnesium: nature’s physiologic calcium blocker.” Nobody knew of these connections, because the literature crossed disciplinary lines. People know what is in their area of specialization, but not potentially related areas.
Swanson argues that the idea of an information explosion is a misnomer. Since it is people who produce articles, the ratio of articles to people isn’t unmanageable. The real problem—the supernova of explosions—is in the connections between articles. Connections grow exponentially. Looking at just pair-wise relationships, you get
Connections = (Number of Articles * Number of Articles -1) / 2.
2 will get you 1. 3 will get you 3. 4 will get you 6. 5 will get you 10 and 50 million will get you 1.25 * 1015.
Only a very small percentage of articles needs to connect for there to exist a great deal of undiscovered public knowledge.
It is a problem, because we already have solutions for much of what ails us. The problem is that one person knows that A leads to B. Somebody else knows that B leads to C. Nobody knows A leads to C.
What is the opportunity? The biggest potentially game-changing invention to come along since the internet is IBM’s Watson, the computer that beat the best at Jeopardy. The internet digitizes information, but the information is in human language. Watson, however crudely, can handle human language. This allows us apply the power of computing to knowledge discovery.
To take full advantage of it, I would have Watson read everything and have it ask the experts such questions as: Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer. This cancer is caused by these genes turning off and those turning on. This dermatology drug turns on these genes and that schizophrenia drug turns off those genes. If he had taken these two drugs in combination, would he still be alive?
Step one is just figuring out logical implications: If A leads to B and B leads to C, then doesn’t A lead to C? Step two is mapping out what is known and not know and then suggesting studies that could be done to fill major holes in our thinking. For example, A>B>C>E>F. Shouldn’t we look into D?
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Tad Waddington cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
An introduction to Tads’ book Lasting Contribution
A deep dive into explaining Confucianism
Don Swanson’s computer program for searching for undiscovered public knowledge in medical research databases.
The Nova documentary on IBM’s Watson.
Field’s book, A Great Leap Forward
Those familiar with my book reviews, interviews, and commentaries already know that I have several favorite quotations that I use whenever appropriate. Here are two. In 1963, Peter Drucker observed that “there is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Many years later, Michael Porter suggested that “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. ” These are directly relevant to the material that Peter Skarzynski and Rowan Gibson present in their book, Innovation to the Core: A Blueprint for Transforming the Way Your Company Innovates (Harvard Business Review Press, 2008), as they respond brilliantly to questions such as these
• How to create the preconditions for innovation?
• How to establish a foundation of “novel strategic insights”?
• How to generate a “torrent” of new opportunities for innovative thinking?
• How to ask the right questions at the right time?
• How to construct an “innovation architecture”?
• How to select, schedule, manage, and leverage investments in innovation?
• What does “driving to innovation” involve?
• When doing so, how to balance supply and demand?
• How to build a “systematic innovation capability”?
• How to sustain innovation?
These are terrific questions because they are immensely difficult to answer correctly. Here’s what I suggest:
1. Form a core team of people who have thick hides, sharp minds, insatiable curiosity about what works (and what doesn’t), and tend to use first-person plural pronouns almost exclusively.
2. Formulate a list of questions such as those that Skarzynski and Gibson address in their book (at least seven, no more than ten) and set them in proper order. Be prepared to add, delete, revise, re-order, etc.
3. With both good will and tenacity, challenge all assumptions and premises. Meanwhile, keep in mind that just as the only “dumb” question is the one not asked, the only “dumb” idea is the one not shared.
4. Keep good notes and, if possible, display key points during discussion so they can be seen by everyone.
Whoever leads the group should read Innovation to the Core.
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Peter Skarzynski is CEO and a Founding Director of Strategos. For over 20 years, Peter has helped senior managers set strategic direction, capture new growth opportunities and make their organizations more innovative. His experience cuts across industries and includes retail, consumer products, publishing, financial services, healthcare and technology companies. His primary focus has been to help client organizations renew their core business through competence leverage and break-through business concept innovation.
Skarzynski is widely published on the topic of innovation and has written for such publications as The Wall Street Journal, CEO Magazine and The Drucker Foundation. He is a frequent corporate and conference speaker. holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing and a BA (with Honors) in Policy Studies and Economics from the University of Chicago.
Although Innovation to the Core is acclaimed as the first to describe how large organizations can build and sustain a company-wide innovation capability, I think almost all of their insights and recommendations can be of substantial to any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.